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Weekly News Check-In 1/3/20

WNCI-4

Welcome back.

Goodbye to another year of increasing greenhouse gas emissions, and to the hottest decade in recorded human history. The fight against the Weymouth compressor station tells the whole story. We could draw a direct line from that and the Granite Bridge pipeline, and from the many other seemingly unstoppable fossil fuel infrastructure projects – straight through the unfolding climate disaster and Australia’s burning summer.

The good news continues to reside in stories about clean energy, clean transportation, and energy efficiency, and even some of that is mixed. But the fossil fuel industry keeps the truly scary stuff coming. New year, last chance? Time to write, phone, march, and change the trajectory.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

compressor protesters 2019
Why The Weymouth Compressor Was Such An Environmental Flash Point in 2019
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
January 1, 2020

One of the biggest local environmental stories this year has been the on-going saga of the Weymouth natural gas compressor station. As 2019 comes to a close, construction is currently underway despite opposition from many city, state and federal officials.

WBUR’s Miriam Wasser joined Morning Edition to talk about why this project has become such a flash point — hint: health, safety and climate change — and what the Earthwhile team will be watching in 2020.
» Listen to report     

Charlie's sour bells
Charlie Baker was confronted by protesters during a Salvation Army bell ringing
The Weymouth compressor project is underway, but opponents aren’t letting up.
By  Nik DeCosta-Klipa Boston.com
December 20, 2019

Gov. Charlie Baker made his annual stop by the Salvation Army kettle in Downtown Crossing on Thursday, ringing one of the group’s bells to encourage donations this holiday season.

This year, however, the sounds of Baker’s clanging bell were joined by a chorus of angry protesters.

“We brought our own bells,” one protester said ahead of the demonstration.

Surrounding the Massachusetts governor during his unique appearance on the downtown Boston street corner, the small group chanted in opposition to a natural gas compressor station in Weymouth, which received final approval last month from federal officials. Construction on the controversial project began Dec. 4.
» Read article      

» More on the Weymouth compressor station

GRANITE BRIDGE PIPELINE

I was attacked for having a personal stake in stopping fossil fuels. I do – and so do you
By Dan Weeks, Concord Monitor opinion
December 26, 2019

As for Granite Bridge, before taking my position I spent hours listening to the pipeline’s lobbyist at Liberty Utilities and reading the studies he sent (commissioned by the utility). Then I re-examined the independent research on fracked gas, pipeline explosions and fugitive methane emissions, which are 86 times more potent than CO2 at warming the planet and effectively negate the global warming “benefits” of gas versus oil and coal, according to peer-reviewed research in the journal Nature and many other publications. As the New York Times reported just this month, “natural gas…has become the biggest driver of emissions growth globally” thanks in part to a recent jump in gas flaring. New pipelines simply cannot solve the climate crisis, as my critic claims.

The truth is, I do have a personal stake in stopping new fossil fuel investments wherever they occur – and so do you. For the good of my three young kids and yours, I refuse to be silent about the mounting climate crisis or the emerging clean tech solutions to which I have chosen to dedicate my public career in a manner that is anything but “disingenuous” or “underhanded.”

As for my presumed opponent in this debate, I wish him and his union well, and look forward to the day when New Hampshire policies allow us to put thousands more union tradesmen to work building the clean energy future our kids and climate demand, as neighboring states have shown.
» Read article     

» More on Granite Bridge pipeline        

CLIMATE

compare wildfire size
The Shocking Size of the Australian Wildfires
By Katharina Buchholz,  Statista
January 2, 2020

The devastating California wildfires of 2018 and last year’s fires in the Amazon rainforest made international headlines and shocked the world, but in terms of size they are far smaller than the current bushfire crisis in Australia, where approximately 12 million acres have been burned to date. Fires in remote parts of northern Russia burned 6.7 million acres last year, but most of the regions were sparsely populated and no casualties were reported.

While the California fires of 2018 have long been put out and the Amazon fires have been reduced at least, Australia is only in the middle of its fire season. Ongoing heat and drought are expected to fan the flames further. This week, shocking pictures of bright orange skies in Queensland and flames ripping through towns captured the world’s attention.
» Read article      

angry summer
Australia’s Angry Summer: This Is What Climate Change Looks Like
The catastrophic fires raging across the southern half of the continent are largely the result of rising temperatures
By Nerilie Abram, Scientific American
December 31, 2019

The effects of rising temperature on drying out the environment can be countered by rainfall or by the growth of vegetation that increases humidity locally. But in the southern half of Australia, where rain falls mostly in the winter, there has been a substantial decline in precipitation. In the southwest of the country, rainfall has declined by around 20 percent since the 1970s, and in the southeast, around 11 percent of rainfall has been lost since the 1990s.

One of the factors driving this long-term loss of winter rainfall is the positive trend in the Southern Annular Mode (SAM). This change is causing the westerly winds that circle the Southern Ocean to shift southward toward Antarctica, causing rain-bearing winter cold fronts to pass south of the Australian continent. The role of anthropogenic climate change in driving this trend in the SAM is also clear in the science.
» Read article      

fire weatherThe bushfires in Australia are so big they’re generating their own weather — ‘pyrocumulonimbus’ thunderstorms that can start more fires
Jim Edwards, Insider
December 30, 2019

Intense fires generate smoke, obviously. But their heat can also create a localized updraft powerful enough to create its own changes in the atmosphere above. As the heat and smoke rise, the cloud plume can cool off, generating a large, puffy cloud full of potential rain. The plume can also scatter embers and hot ash over a wider area.

Eventually, water droplets in the cloud condense, generating a downburst of rain — maybe. But the “front” between the calm air outside the fire zone and a pyrocumulonimbus storm cloud is so sharp that it also generates lightning — and that can start new fires.

If powerful enough, a pyrocumulonimbus storm can generate a fire tornado, which happened during the Canberra bushfires in 2003.
» Read article        

climate science decade
Climate Science Discoveries of the Decade: New Risks Scientists Warned About in the 2010s
A decade of ice, ocean and atmospheric studies found systems nearing dangerous tipping points. As the evidence mounted, countries worldwide began to see the risk.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
December 28, 2019

The 2010s may go down in environmental history as the decade when the fingerprints of climate change became evident in extreme weather events, from heat waves to destructive storms, and climate tipping points once thought to be far off were found to be much closer.

It was the decade when governments worldwide woke up to the risk and signed the Paris climate agreement, yet still failed to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions at the pace and scale needed. And when climate scientists, seeing the evidence before them, cast away their reluctance to publicly advocate for action.

The sum of the decade’s climate science research, compiled in a series of reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), suggests global warming is pushing many planetary systems toward a breakdown.
» Read article      

youth resistance 2019
A Year Of Resistance: How Youth Protests Shaped The Discussion On Climate Change

By Joe Curnow, University of Manitoba and Anjali Helferty, University of Toronto, in DeSmog Blog
December 28, 2019

Greta Thunberg made history again this month when she was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. The 16-year-old has become the face of youth climate action, going from a lone child sitting outside the Swedish parliament building in mid-2018 to a symbol for climate strikers — young and old — around the world.

Thunberg was far from the first young person to speak up in an effort to hold the powerful accountable for their inaction on climate change, yet the recognition of her efforts come at a time when world leaders will have to decide whether — or with how much effort — they will tackle climate change. Their actions or inactions will determine how much more vocal youth will become in 2020.
» Read article      

fracking methane
The Fracking Industry’s Methane Problem Is a Climate Problem
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
December 22, 2019

While carbon dioxide — deservedly — gets a bad rap when it comes to climate change, about 40 percent of global warming actually can be attributed to the powerful greenhouse gas methane, according to the 2013 IPCC report. This makes addressing methane emissions critical to stopping additional warming, especially in the near future. Methane is shorter-lived in the atmosphere but 85 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20 year period.

Atmospheric levels of methane stopped increasing around the year 2000 and at the time were expected to decrease in the future. However, they began increasing again in the last 10 years, spurring researchers to explore why. Robert Howarth, a biogeochemist at Cornell University, recently presented his latest research linking the increase in methane to fossil fuel production, with fracking for natural gas, which is mostly methane, likely a major source.
» Read article      

boiling down under
As heatwave bakes Australia on land, an unprecedented marine heatwave causes fish kills in the ocean
By Irena Ceranic, ABC Australia
December 17, 2019

Western Australia’s coastline is in the midst of the most widespread marine heatwave it has experienced since reliable satellite monitoring began in 1993.

The warm waters are believed to have contributed to a number of fish kills in the past month.
» Read article        

hottest decade
2019 Wraps Up The Hottest Decade In Recorded Human History
By Eric Mack, Forbes
December 3, 2019

“Since the 1980s, each successive decade has been warmer than any preceding decade since 1850,” the World Meteorological Organization wrote in its provisional “State of the Global Climate” report for 2019.

It also appears that 2019 will wind up as either the second or third warmest year on record. This would mean that all of the ten warmest years on record have come since 2005, with eight of the top ten occurring in the decade now ending.

Another disturbing development is that the trend line for global hunger has reversed, increasing to affect one in nine humans after a decade of declining. The WMO says drought and floods are largely to blame and both phenomenons are on the increase against the backdrop of warming air and oceans.
» Read article     

» Read WMO report     

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY ALTERNATIVES

big desert solar
Trump administration set to approve NV Energy’s 690 MW solar farm, largest in US
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
January 2, 2020

The Trump administration intends to approve siting for the largest solar farm in the United States, a 690 MW facility that will also include 380 MW of 4 hour battery storage.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released its final environmental impact statement for the project on Monday, following the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) of Nevada’s approval of NV Energy’s proposal Dec. 4. The $1 billion project will be sited on federal land outside Las Vegas.

Obama’s BLM previously rejected the project under an agreement with conservation groups that protected sensitive desert land from wind and solar development. The Trump administration indicated it would scrap that agreement in February 2018.
» Read article      

» More on clean energy

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

EV Uber for LA
Electric Vehicles for Uber and Lyft? Los Angeles Might Require It, Mayor Says.
L.A. has big plans for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, but requiring EVs for rideshare services would also radically change the economics of the business.
By LESLIE HOOK, FINANCIAL TIMES – in InsideClimate News
December 27, 2019

Los Angeles is considering forcing rideshare services such as Uber and Lyft to use electric vehicles in what would be a first for any city as LA seeks to cut emissions and get more electric vehicles on the streets, the mayor said.

Eric Garcetti, mayor of Los Angeles, told the Financial Times that the electric-vehicle requirement was one step being contemplated to cut the city’s greenhouse gas emissions and become carbon neutral by 2050.

“We have the power to regulate car share,” he said in a phone interview. “We can mandate, and are looking closely at mandating, that any of those vehicles in the future be electric.”
» Read article

Toronto Garbage Trucks Will Soon Be Powered by Biogas From the Very Food Scraps That They Collect
By McKinley Corbley, Good News Network
October 30, 2019

Toronto is set to be one of the first cities in North America to launch such an initiative, thanks to the their newly-constructed Dufferin Solid Waste Management Facility.

Starting in March 2020, the city’s fleet of garbage trucks will collect all of the organic waste and flood scraps from the Toronto Green Bins and bring them to the facility for processing. The facility will then use anaerobic digesters to capture all of the biogas produced by the waste and transform it into renewable natural gas (RNG).
» Read article      

» More on clean transportation

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Local Governments Vote Resoundingly for Improved National Energy Codes
By New Buildings Institute
December 20, 2019

Preliminary voting results on the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) are in! The outcome of over a year of effort to update the national model energy code was released yesterday and is estimated to bring at least 10% better efficiency for decades to come for both residential and commercial buildings that follow the IECC. This is the second biggest efficiency gain in the last decade for the IECC and puts buildings on a glide path to deliver better comfort, higher productivity, increased value and lower operating costs. The changes also mitigate carbon emissions from buildings, which account for 39% of carbon in the United States.
» Read article    

» More on energy efficiency

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY NEWS

emissions-health correlation
When U.S. Emissions Dropped, Mortality Dropped Dramatically

By Jeff McMahon,  Forbes
December 30, 2019

U.S. air pollution emissions dropped dramatically from 2008 to 2014, driven in part by the closure of coal-fired power plants. Now researchers have documented that health damages from air pollution dropped just as dramatically during that time.

“Not only have the emissions decreased, but the damages—the health damages—from those emissions have decreased very rapidly, more than 20% over the course of six years,” said Inês M.L. Azevedo, an associate professor in Stanford University’s Department of Energy Resources Engineering.
» Read article     

Germany shuts down coal
How Germany closed its coal industry without sacking a single miner
By Nick O’Malley, Sydney Morning Herald
July 14, 2019

While Australia continues to open new coal mines, Germany is in the midst of closing down its entire coal sector. The last of the country’s black coal mines was decommissioned last year, the victim of the economic reality that nations like Australia could dig the stuff up cheaper than the Germans could.

Now Germany is beginning the process of ending its brown coal industry and shutting down the energy plants that it feeds so it can meet its agreements under the Paris climate accord. Some see Germany’s audacious decommissioning of the industry as a model from which Australian has much to learn. Others believe that Australia is simply politically and culturally ill-equipped to do so.

The sheer scale of the German undertaking is hard to even contemplate from the Australian perspective, where coal is still king and where significant political decisions are met with particularly stern punishment.
» Read article      

gas - boom to bust
Once a booming industry, natural gas is in midst of a bust
Rick Shrum, Observer-Reporter
December 29, 2019

Yes, the boom has been supplanted by bust, and a quick turnaround isn’t likely. Andy Brogan is among industry insiders who don’t anticipate that. Brogan, leader of the oil and gas global sector at EY (formerly Ernst & Young), told the Times:

“In the short term, the gas market is oversupplied and is likely to remain so for the next few years.

“It’s a cyclical business, and we’re at the bottom of the cycle.”
» Read article      

swimming in debt
As Fracking Companies Face Bankruptcy, US Regulators Enable Firms to Duck Cleanup Costs
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
December 20, 2019

In over their heads with debt, U.S. shale oil and gas firms are now moving from a boom in fracking to a boom in bankruptcies. This trend of failing finances has the potential for the U.S. public, both at the state and federal levels, to be left on the hook for paying to properly shut down and clean up even more drilling sites.

Expect these companies to try reducing their debt through the process of bankruptcy and, like the coal industry, attempting to get out of environmental and employee-related financial obligations.

In October, EP Energy — one of the largest oil producers in the Eagle Ford Shale region in Texas — filed for bankruptcy because the firm couldn’t pay back almost $5 billion in debt, making it the largest oil and gas bankruptcy since 2016.

The federal government is only getting around to assessing EP Energy’s potential liabilities once the firm is already in the bankruptcy process, revealing one of the flaws in the current system. Federal and state governments have not been holding fracking companies fully liable for the environmental damage and cleanup costs of their drilling activity.
» Read article      

» More on fossil fuels

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